October 26, 2023

Francis Gyapong

PhD: The effects of environmental metals on the spread of antimicrobial resistance genes in the stickleback skin microbiome

Location: University of Nottingham


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My journey tackling antimicrobial resistance (AMR) started far back as my childhood ambition was to be a biology teacher. This led me to pursue general science at Senior High School and Biological Sciences Education for my first degree at the University of Education, Winneba-Ghana. Along the way, a close cousin suffered septicaemia and died due to drug resistance. This piqued my curiosity about microbiology,  ecology, evolution, molecular genetics, and antimicrobial resistance. My bachelor’s thesis was on antibiotic resistance patterns of Escherichia coli, Staphylococcus aureus, and Klebsiella pneumonia strains isolated from the cell phones of healthcare workers in the Mampong Municipal Government Hospital in the Ashanti Region of Ghana ( The study commended as one of the best in the department, showed multidrug resistance of all organisms to conventional antibiotics.

The outcomes of this project, coupled with my curious nature, endear me to study Molecular Cell Biology of Infectious Diseases at the Master’s level at the West African Centre for Cell Biology of Infectious Pathogens, University of Ghana. I was awarded a World Bank African Centre of Excellence scholarship and the Ghana Education Trust Fund during this time. As part of my Master’s thesis, I employed the COVID-19 surgical face masks to investigate the presence and spread of antimicrobial resistance in the environment. This study showed diverse multidrug-resistant pathobionts on the used face mask, and its continuous use could be associated with an increased risk of developing infection. Also, improper disposal of the used face mask could contribute to the spread of AMR in the environment (,

The emerging dangers of antimicrobial resistance are a major source of fear for me. I have realized that global surveillance strategies are required to monitor this emerging global health problem (AMR). Hence, environmental surveillance is warranted to identify and respond to this threat.

As such, my PhD project will investigate whether environmental variation in metal concentrations on the island of North Uist, Scotland, leads to increased presence, abundance, and spread (via HGT) of antibiotic resistance genes (ARGs) in stickleback skin microbiomes. I will use wet lab techniques and bioinformatics approaches to understand microbial diversity and the presence of mobile genetic elements. The study is expected to provide valuable insight into how environmental variations can provide favourable conditions for the transfer of ARGs and offer effective strategies to combat antibiotic resistance. The project is co-supervised by Dr. Fiona Whelan, Prof. Andrew MacColl, and Dr. Hanna Hartikainen. I am based in the School of Life Sciences, University of Nottingham.